Detroit Tigers’ Michael Lorenzen breaks down Shohei Ohtani; ‘he’s really smart’

Detroit Free Press

Michael Lorenzen hasn’t faced Shohei Ohtani in the regular season.

The pair of two-way players — similar abilities but different skills — faced in spring training leading up to the 2021 season, with Ohtani launching two home runs off Lorenzen. They became teammates with the Los Angeles Angels in the 2022 season.

“I got to figure out a different plan,” Lorenzen said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Lorenzen, a right-handed pitcher who hasn’t stepped in the batter’s box since 2021 but has a .233 batting average in 147 plate appearances, will start on the mound Wednesday for the Detroit Tigers against the Angels.

The 31-year-old gets to clash with his former teammates, including Ohtani, in the second of three games at Comerica Park. Ohtani isn’t scheduled to pitch, but he is expected to be in the batting order as the designated hitter for all three games.

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“I enjoyed everyone in and around that team,” Lorenzen said of the Angels, entering Tuesday at 4½ games out of a spot in the American League wild card. “I’ve been over there and said hi to a handful of the guys. I’m looking forward to facing them. They’re in a tight spot. They gotta win every game, so they’re going to be taking good at-bats. I got to show up ready.”

The Angels won’t have Mike Trout, a three-time AL MVP, in the lineup until August after he underwent surgery to remove his fractured left hamate bone. But the Tigers still have to deal with three days of Ohtani’s greatness.

He seems impossible to stop.

“He’s very special,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “There aren’t too many people that have been able to do it. He’s doing it at an extreme level, and he’s elite at everything. You just tip your cap and realize that we’re playing against a generation talent who we’re going to look back on and tell a lot of stories about.”

In the batter’s box, Ohtani is hitting .302 with 36 home runs, 60 walks and 102 strikeouts in 98 games. He leads MLB in home runs, slugging percentage (.674) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.072).

On the mound, Ohtani owns a 3.71 ERA with 47 walks and 148 strikeouts across 111⅔ innings in 19 starts. (In the 2022 season, Ohtani posted a 2.33 ERA with 44 walks and 219 strikeouts over 166 innings in 28 starts.)

“We’re not facing him on the mound, so half of the equation of dealing with him is gone,” Hinch said. “But I think, just much respect for him and how he has to prepare himself to do collectively the hardest thing to do in baseball — to be great at everything.”

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Lorenzen, who witnessed Ohtani’s greatness as a teammate last season, revealed three components of Ohtani’s legendary status. He possesses a powerful swing and a nasty arsenal, but there’s something else.

Ohtani, both the pitcher and the batter, puts in the work behind the scenes.

“He doesn’t rely on just that,” Lorenzen said of Ohtani’s raw abilities. “He also has the skill in that he studies and knows his stuff. That’s why what he’s doing is so impressive, but it’s sustainable.”

“He’s smart,” Lorenzen added. “He knows when hitters are sitting percentages and sitting pitches. He knows how to navigate through that. He’s really smart with stuff like that, so that’s what I say about him.”

The Angels could trade Ohtani within the next seven days as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches. The 29-year-old, who has been in MLB for six seasons, will become a free agent after the 2023 season.

Ohtani is expected to break industry free-agent records for total salary and average annual value when he signs a new contract.

“There was a lot of impressive moments,” Lorenzen said. “Honestly, he has another gear, and it’s fun to watch when he goes into that gear. You guys have probably seen that a lot this year. I feel like it’s do-or-die this year in Anaheim. … He’s got another gear in him, and when he taps into that gear, it’s incredible.”

Prospect on injured list

Double-A Erie right-hander Wilmer Flores landed on the seven-day injured list Monday, retroactive to Saturday, with a right hamstring strain. The 22-year-old has a 3.93 ERA with 32 walks and 75 strikeouts over 75⅔ innings in 17 starts this season.

He is the No. 4 prospect in the Tigers’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.

Flores tweaked his mechanics in the offseason and struggled at the beginning of the season. The Tigers helped him recapture his old delivery, which allowed him to tap into his expected velocity and command, before the hamstring injury.

J-Hen returns to Mud Hens

Triple-A Toledo outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy returned from the seven-day injured list (without an injury designated) and played for the Mud Hens on Sunday, serving as the designated hitter. He missed six games.

The 23-year-old is hitting .275 with 15 home runs, 60 walks and 93 strikeouts in 84 games this season. He is expected to make his MLB debut at some point in the 2023 season, possibly in September.

He is the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect.

Medical update

∎ Right-hander Spencer Turnbull (neck discomfort) started his rehab assignment Tuesday with High-A West Michigan, tossing two scoreless innings on two hits, zero walks and one strikeout. The 30-year-old threw 15 of 23 pitches for strikes. His next start will be Sunday with the Whitecaps.

∎ Right-handed reliever Will Vest (right lower leg strain) completed a bullpen session Tuesday and will throw a live batting practice session later in the week. He is nearing a rehab assignment.

∎ Right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain, lumbar strain) is scheduled to throw his next bullpen session Wednesday.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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